From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- His old fans booed him. His old friend clobbered him.Otherwise, it was Linsanity all over again at Madison Square Garden.Jeremy Lin had 22 points and eight assists in his return to New York, leading the Houston Rockets to a 109-96 victory Monday night that ended the Knicks' 10-game home winning streak to open the season.Cheered then jeered, and later floored by Tyson Chandler's flagrant foul, Lin added another masterpiece to the ones he put together last season during the height of his memorable run. No longer the fan favorite he was when wearing the home uniform, Lin got a mixed reception when he left the game with 2:25 remaining and the Rockets leading by 16."It was a lot of fun playing out there and I think our team, we took a step in the right direction," Lin said. "And for me, it was great to be back and it was a lot of fun to play on that court again."James Harden had 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who blew out the Knicks for the second time this season. They have won the last seven meetings, including a 131-103 rout in Houston on Nov. 23.Rookie Chris Copeland scored a career-high 29 points for the Knicks, who played without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony and had their four-game winning streak snapped. They fell to 18-6, matching the record they finished last season with under Mike Woodson.Woodson's team decided not to match Houston's contract offer to Lin, and nobody could argue when Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni led the Knicks to the best record in the Eastern Conference with a team that led the NBA in fewest turnovers.But Lin was the best point guard on the floor, just as he so often was during his dazzling run last winter, when the NBA's first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent went from undrafted benchwarmer to the biggest story in basketball."He had a good game, without a doubt," Felton said. "I never talked junk about Jeremy Lin. Anything I said about Jeremy, I felt like he deserved anything. He deserved everything he got. He had a good game. Plain and simple."Felton scored 14 points but shot 7 of 18. Kidd was 2 for 9, and both committed three turnovers.The Rockets outscored the Knicks 54-29 over the middle two quarters, denying New York its first 11-0 start at home since the 1991-92 season.The Knicks trailed by just five midway through the third quarter before the Rockets blew it open with a 15-0 run, with Lin either scoring or assisting on five of their six baskets.His layup opened the run, and he then found Marcus Morris for a layup and a 3-pointer for a 67-55 Houston lead. Lin assisted on the second of Harden's consecutive 3-pointers, then had a steal and layup that gave Houston a 75-55 cushion.Lin saw some fans wearing his old jersey, but said he didn't let his mind drift back to last season during the game."I've moved on, they've moved on," he said. "We have good memories, but at the same time we're all in a different place now."Lin doubled his scoring average in what he called an up-and-down season so far."I hope this is the start of a nice run for him, because he works really hard," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "He's a great kid. He deserves it."Anthony decided Monday to give his sprained left ankle a second straight game to recover. The Knicks did get good injury news when Amare Stoudemire, out all season after left knee surgery, was cleared to practice. He will work out with Erie, the Knicks' NBA Development League affiliate, when it works out at the Knicks' training facility on Tuesday.The Rockets snapped a seven-game road losing streak, their longest since an eight-game skid in 2001-02.A sellout crowd that included swimsuit model Kate Upton -- who was on one fewer Sports Illustrated covers than Lin last February -- gave the Harvard graduate a loud ovation during the introduction of starting lineups. The cheers quickly turned to jeers once the game started, particularly when he made a basket. There were boos when Chandler knocked him to the ground with a shot to the head that resulted in a flagrant foul.Chandler felt it was a clean, hard foul that didn't warrant a flagrant. He and Lin hugged after the game."He had a good game," Chandler said. "He had a good game the other night. He's a good player. He's going to have some nights, but I thought we could have took away a lot of his easy baskets, him and James Harden."J.R. Smith came off the bench to make all five shots and give the Knicks a 31-29 after one. The Rockets scored the first 10 of the second quarter, opening a 39-31 lead on Lin's 3-pointer with 9:26 left in the half. Houston scored the final six of the half, turning an eight-point lead into a 56-42 cushion.NOTES:Stoudemire is working out with the D-League team because the Knicks are not expected to do much running at practice Tuesday. They haven't held a formal practice since Dec. 4. "It seems strange but we have a stretch right now where we're playing every other day and it's hard to play a game and then think you can come in and drill these guys," Woodson said. "I like to practice, that's where I feel like you learn a lot and stay sharp in terms of your defensive rotations, but I can't run them in practice and expect them to come back and play the next day and then practice again. There's just too many games coming at us right now."
Starting pitching. Relief pitching. Hitting.
Save defense, that about covers the ingredients necessary to be a well-rounded ball club, a team capable of winning a lot of games, a division title and potentially a World Series championship.
Are the White Sox that kind of team? Do they have all those necessary ingredients in the cupboard?
It's going to take some time to find out whether that's the case or not, especially in this most unusual of seasons. Like any team — and any team on the rise, in particular; the last time these White Sox played regular-season baseball, they were wrapping up an 89-loss campaign — there are questions, some of them big. Can Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada still put up huge numbers if their good fortune from 2019 decreases? Will Luis Robert's jam-packed toolbox translate to instant major league mastery? And what the heck are the White Sox going to get out of Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón?
But if the team can receive positive answers to those questions and more, then things could be looking up fast. In a squeezed-down, 60-game season where a fast start is mandatory, those answers will need to come in a hurry.
Are they capable? They sure look it.
"We've got a lot of young guys that can catch fire," White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer said Thursday. "That's kind of what they always say, it's always catching fire at the right time. We've got a young group of guys mixed in with a whole bunch of veterans that have been there and done it.
"I'm excited to get everybody together, and hopefully we can ride that wave, hopefully we start out strong. A lot of people have said, you can break it down into three seasons: You're going to win 20, you're going to lose 20, what are you going to do with the other 20? Hopefully we're going to go out there, catch fire and win a whole bunch of games."
Winning a whole bunch of games is obviously every team's goal on the doorstep of the regular season. And truly, every team might be in the mix to do just that in this two-month dash to the postseason.
But the White Sox do appear well equipped, and the combination of young players who broke out in a big way last season and the veteran additions that Rick Hahn's front office made over the winter has the possibility to make them the most balanced group in a three-team race for the AL Central crown. The Minnesota Twins swing some serious sticks, and they added perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson to that already ferocious lineup. But will the pitching staff past José Berríos match the fear the offense strikes in opposing clubs? The Cleveland Indians might still have the best starting rotation in baseball, even after dealing away Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. But can their top-heavy lineup match the quality of their arms?
The White Sox boast a remade lineup, now featuring Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación, Nomar Mazara and Robert to go along with Moncada, Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and José Abreu. Bummer, a pitcher, sees plenty of reason his fellow hurlers should be scared.
"Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy," Bummer said, merely listing the trio he had to face in Thursday's intrasquad game, when he coughed up a parrot-producing homer to Encarnación. "It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."
The starting rotation has new faces, too, chiefly free-agent adds Dallas Keuchel and Gio González, two accomplished arms who have playoff experience. Match that with Lucas Giolito, fresh off an All-Star campaign, and the collection of talented, if not completely proven, young arms — the aforementioned Cease, López, Kopech and Rodón — and it's a deeper group than what the team was ready to break camp with in March.
"It's fun to watch those guys compete," Bummer said. "You see the pure stuff of Giolito, Cease and Rodón. It's pure ability, it's pure stuff. And then you have the veterans, Keuchel and Gio González, who have been there, done that, and they pitch. They go out there and they dominate with their ability to pitch. And even adding Lopey to the mix. Lopey's stuff is unbelievable.
"There's six guys out there right now, I'll roll with them over anybody. I'll roll with that starting rotation. They get as far into the games as possible, and hopefully the bullpen can go out and go save a bunch of wins for them."
And then there's Bummer's unit, the bullpen, which was a strength for the White Sox last season. Bummer, Alex Colomé, Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero made for a dependable group of late-inning options, and that group's grown with the addition of Steve Cishek, who made so many high-leverage pitches for contending Cubs teams in recent seasons. Throw in a potential bounce-back candidate in Kelvin Herrera, and there's impressive depth here, too.
"It's exciting," Bummer said. "You add in Cishek, you add in a full season of the guys like Marshall, Jimmy Cordero, and there are a lot of guys out there. There are guys hungry for a nice bounce back between Kelvin and Jace (Fry). I think everybody's hungry to go out there and do their job.
"I would stack us up, I think we're seven or eight deep out there, to go out there and get competitive outs. As long as we keep ourselves in games, I think our bullpen is going to be a pretty good strength moving forward."
What else could the White Sox ask for?
Listing the roster doesn't win games, of course, but adding everything up, stacking all the positives up in one place, it's easy to see why this team could be capable of making some real noise, even in this strangest of seasons.
Hahn will point to the high volume of these guys who are under team control deep into the future, and his rebuilding effort has always targeted a contention window that gets propped open for years. That also looks possible.
All the White Sox need to do is open it. The postseason expectations that dominated the pre-shutdown era of 2020, from SoxFest in January through the abrupt end to spring training in mid March, showed how serious the White Sox are about doing that opening this year. And as Bummer and so many others on this team will tell you, the months-long layoff didn't change those expectations one bit.
The future, especially in this season, under these circumstances, is unpredictable. But no matter where you look on this roster, the White Sox look capable of grabbing that future by the horns.
Cubs shortstop Javy Báez doesn’t know any more than anyone else where baseball’s economics and player salary markets are headed in the next year or two as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the two-time All-Star expressed no regret about not accepting a club offer during negotiations on a long-term extension over the winter and said he felt no “rush” to resume talks in the uncertain climate.
Báez, the 2018 MVP runner-up who is eligible for free agency after next season, had expressed optimism that talks were “progressing” in March before the pandemic shut down sports — and all extension talks.
“It’s been really difficult with all this happening right now,” said Báez, whose family all stayed healthy through baseball’s shutdown and who looks in good shape after working out during that time with brother-in-law Jose Berrios, the Twins pitcher.
“We have really good communication and relationship between me and the owners and obviously my agent,” Báez added. “I think when this [is in the] past, I think we’re going to talk and stay in touch and see what happens from here on, and with the season.”
Teammate Kris Bryant, long considered a sure thing to test the open market after the 2021 season, said Monday the pandemic and first-time fatherhood has made him rethink things that are important to him — including, potentially, the Cubs and what it might take to stay with them.
But predicting where payroll budgets, industry revenues and consequently player markets will be even two or three years from now is all but impossible during a pandemic with no end in sight.
All of which could render many players and teams’ best intentions moot for now.
“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this week.
Báez, who has a 2020 salary of $10 million (prorated for the shortened season), was the primary focus of the front office much of the winter as it tried to lock him up as a part of the next contending core it envisioned.
He said he has bigger things to worry about now as the team tries to stay disciplined and committed to pulling off a 60-game season.
“Obviously, everybody wants to get paid, but we’ve got to wait for the right time,” he said, “and both sides are going to see and know what’s right for each other. I’m not in a rush. I’m worried right now about getting back on the field and playing regular games and trying to win in this season that is going to be so weird.
“Obviously with this happening right now it’s going to change everything. It already changed 2020; it’s going to change the next two years I think.”
Báez said the decision to play was not really difficult and he didn’t consider opting out.
“I feel like everybody’s dealing with the same thing,” said Báez, who among other things keeps his free agency timeline intact by playing and being credited with a full season of service time for 2020. “Some of them have got contracts; some of them don’t.
“I’ve got one year [more] I’m going to be in arbitration. We’ll see. They know me. I’m pretty sure every team knows me and knows what I can do. I’m not in a rush. We’ll just see what happens this season and how it goes for me and with this 60 games and be ready for next season.